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Winter Camping in Cades Cove, Tennessee

Cades Cove Valley

Cades Cove is a beautiful valley in the northwest sector of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, altitude 1726 feet, latitude 35.594 degrees north, 1 hour 25 minute drive south of Knoxville. Cades Cove was settled by Europeans from 1820 until 1937. Prior to the departure of the last of the settlers, the region was absorbed by the larger surrounding National Park. Then and today, Cades Cove is an area of scenic beauty, historical structures, outdoor recreation, wildlife, and campgrounds all surrounded by an 11-mile Loop Road. Cades Cove includes one of the few campgrounds in the National Park that is open for use during the winter months. Campers take their chances when camping there during the winter because they could be stuck for awhile.

The families of R&N enjoy the annual adventure of semi-winter camping in Cades Cove during late October. During that time of year, the weather is variable and ranges from warm and clear blue skies to snow, ice, cold, and smoky skies. One must prepare for the worst. During their times in the campground, both families enjoy some of the basic comforts of home, but can easily do without if necessary. The electronic devices they bring include one satellite phone (regular cell phones are useless because there is no reception), two GPS locators that are useful during prolonged hiking trips, two small DC-powered space warmers for the tents in the early mornings, two small digital cameras, two small music players that operate via USB, several flashlights, several small LED lamps for reading, one laptop for writing and watching movies, several LED headlamps, and multiple small portable battery chargers. Most of the heating, and all of the cooking is done using liquid fuel. Small campfires are kept burning nearly 24/7.

The families of R&N approached Powerenz to discuss the feasibility of portable solar power to assist with the production of electricity during their camping trips in Cades Cove. Understanding the variable weather and potential for little, if any sunshine for days at a time, we sat at the drawing board. During the discussions, we mentioned the concepts of small portable wind-powered generators and small mobile hydroelectric generators. In Cades Cove during October and November, there are open areas that have a constant breeze. Also in the nearby vicinity, there are several running streams and small rivers that could easily drive any of the smaller portable hydroelectric generators that are available in the marketplace. Small mobile hydroelectric generators can be purchased that produce USB and 12-volt DC power around the clock, including all night, and are perfect for cloudy days.

After a thorough review of each electronic device, its consumption of power and/or batteries, the estimated number of hours of usage each day, a schedule for operating the array of battery chargers, and a guess about the weather, we were able to calculate a reasonable range of daily power needs and required power production. Since the main campground in Cades Cove allows for drive-in and parking of motor vehicles, access road permitting, it was not necessary to restrict the weight of the portable solar power systems. Based on an estimated daily energy consumption of 400 watt-hours plus or minus a few, and a predicted 2 hours of decent sunshine per day (best case scenario 3 hours), we chose a pair of the LFP40 – 176-watt systems (see PLUS a pair of small portable hydroelectric generators that produce up to 15 watts/each of DC power 24 hours/day depending on the velocity of the water flow. The power produced by the water turbines would be used to recharge batteries 24/7, and would make up for whatever power the solar panels failed to produce during days of suboptimal weather. Overall, the two families included the following products in their vehicles and trailers: two LFP40 – 176-watt systems, including four 88-watt solar panels and two 40 amp-hour, 512 watt-hour lithium batteries in shoulder packs, and two miniature hydroelectric plants – total weight less than 100 pounds. If the weather was terrible, both families understood that they would need to limit their use of power.

Near their vehicle parking slot and adjacent to their campsite, there is a small zone that is free of trees and shade where the waterproof solar panels could be deployed, tilted toward the sun, secured to the ground, and left all day. A quarter mile from the campground, there is a running stream where both hydroelectric devices can be set up and left in place to charge batteries all day and night.

Today, November 8, it is 70 degrees and sunny in Cades Cove, and the winds are 5mph. The R&N families will be able to enjoy an excess of power.

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